Getting It Right The First Time

April 11, 2011
CBS Logo

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first Idea Peepshow post from Noah Wenz, who recently joined Fast Horse as a design intern. Noah is a St. Cloud State University graduate who previously worked at The Carney Group and Fanball.com.

To me, logos are the purest example of the value of graphic design. The best of them not only look cool, in and of themselves, but also convey an idea, theme or concept through their use of shape, color, type or a mixture of all of those elements.

Sometimes it takes a while to get there, even for the big corporations. Some are still trying to figure it out. A recent article in Time magazine chronicles the evolution of some of the biggest brands’ visual identities (check out the slideshow at time.com).

These days, everyone is simplifying — and I can appreciate that, despite my nostalgic admiration for many of the flawed, but charming (aka, retro), logos from years passed. One logo, however, stood out.

CBS seems to have gotten it right the first time. While companies such NBC, WalMart and Pepsi have gone through various dramatic transformations in an attempt to appear modern and trendy, the CBS logo has remained virtually untouched for over half a century.

  • The NBC peacock is on its way out (boooo!) in favor of a contemporary type-only mark.
  • WalMart has done the same. Gone is the blocky slab serif that once adorned the facades of their behemoth big-box locations – replaced by a slimmer face, softer colors, and a more abstract star.
  • Pepsi has gone through a redesign nearly every ten years – and more recently every five – as they’ve struggled to create a unique identity as solid and timeless as their big red cola competitor. They never seem to have come close (and in my opinion peaked in 1940).
  • Others such as Starbucks and Nike have ditched their name altogether and just gone with a simple mark. You know you’ve got your customers when you can make that move.
  • In an amusing development, Gap’s recent attempt to update their logo incurred such a backlash from devoted shoppers that they reverted to its previous incarnation.

Through all of this, CBS has stayed the same. That’s an impressive achievement, and I salute The Eye.

I wonder if any of these re-invented logos will last or if time will expose their adherence to the trends and styles of the time. For most, I expect the latter. Meanwhile, The Eye has it. Always has. Always will.